When a person’s facial structure does not develop normally or when it is altered as the result of an injury, appearance and facial function can be adversely affected. Often, correcting the facial structure and alignment cannot be accomplished with orthodontics (braces) alone, but requires surgery to improve form and functionality. An oral or maxillofacial surgeon performs this kind of procedure, which is known as orthognathic or craniofacial surgery.
According to Michael R. Nichols, D.M.D., MD, board certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon of Oral and Facial Surgery of Mississippi in Flowood, orthognatic (or jaw surgery) is very common and can be used to correct a number of conditions involving the skeletal structure of the face and jaw.
“The word orthognathic comes from the Greek, orthos, meaning straight, and gnathos, meaning jaw,” Dr. Nichols explains. “People who can benefit from orthognathic surgery include those with an improper bite or jaws that are positioned incorrectly. Face growth is a gradual process and, in some instances, the upper and lower jaws may grow at different rates. The result can be a host of problems that can affect chewing function, speech, long-term oral health, and appearance. Injury to the face and birth defects can also affect jaw alignment. While braces can correct bite problems when the teeth are involved, orthognathic surgery may be required to correct the facial structures in order to correct the problem adequately.”
The word orthognathic comes from the Greek, orthos, meaning straight, and gnathos, meaning jaw. Orthognathic surgery is used to correct an improper bite or jaws that are positioned incorrectly.
Surgery to correct jaw misalignment, malformation or damage to the facial structure can improve some of the following conditions: difficulty chewing, biting or swallowing; speech issues; chronic jaw or TMJ pain; headaches; open bite; protruding jaw and breathing problems. These conditions may be congenital, caused by environmental influences, or can be the result of trauma to the face.
Most often, the first point of contact for a person suffering with one of these conditions is the family dentist. If the problem is serious enough to require correction, the patient is referred to an orthodontist, who will evaluate the condition, and depending on the severity, may bring in an oral or maxillofacial surgeon to the case.
“If surgery is warranted,” notes Nichols, “the patient is usually placed in orthodontic braces for 12 to 18 months prior to the procedure to get the teeth in the best position possible within the existing framework of the jaw.”
After surgery, the patient will need to continue wearing braces for approximately six months. It sounds like a long process, but the surgery combined with orthodontics before and after, often helps to abbreviate the process.
“While the insurance industry classifies most orthognathic surgery as cosmetic, the benefits are much more than “skin deep,” continues Nichols. “It can treat a number of conditions, not the least of which is sleep apnea, caused by obstruction of the airways. For a person with the prospect of having to sleep with a CPAP machine the rest of his or her life, surgery to correct the airway obstruction can be life-changing.”
“Besides all of the other conditions the surgery can treat, obviously, facial reconstruction surgery can also vastly improve appearance. Especially for teens and young adults, the results can help them develop a more positive self-image and self-confidence that was not possible when they were dissatisfied with the way they looked,” adds Nichols.
Orthognathic surgery, which takes an average of 2 – 4 hours, is performed in the hospital, and generally requires a 2-day stay. After surgery the patient must maintain a soft diet for approximately 3 to 4 weeks.
“By adjusting facial structure to the best possible position, orthognathic surgery can restore normal function and treat a myriad of problems such as clenching and grinding of teeth, relieve headaches, improve chewing efficiency, correct obstructive breathing concerns and positively affect speech by improving the ability to articulate some sounds,” Nichols notes. “It also can make a dramatic difference in a person’s appearance that can change their entire outlook on life,” he concludes.
Michael R. Nichols, DMD, M.D., received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, followed by a Doctor of Medical Dentistry Degree from the University of Mississippi. He obtained his Medical Degree from the University of Alabama, and after completing a general surgery internship, continued his studies in Maxillofacial Surgery at the University of Alabama. In addition to his private practice, Dr. Nichols holds an appointment as an Associate Professor at the University Of Mississippi Department Of Oral Maxillofacial Surgery. He is Board Certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.